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College Football Conference Preview: The ACC

By: Justin Rockhold – 92.3 The Fan
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(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Going from one coast to the other, we leave the PAC-12 and travel now to the ACC. Continuing on our College Football Conference Preview tour, Rocking Since 2013.

Did you stop paying attention to the Atlantic Coast Conference since Tajh Boyd destroyed LSU’s secondary? Well, we’re here to catch you up on what you might’ve missed:

– Steve Addazio took over the Head Coaching reigns at Boston College, while Dave Doeren filled that hole at NC State, and Scott Shafer took the job at Syracuse. (Good luck, Mr. Shafer.)

– Florida State hired new Athletic Director Stan Wilcox.

– Pitt recruit, and local product (Kent Roosevelt), Tra’Von Chapman spent three days in jail after pleading guilty to assault charges stemming from an incident in April. He has yet to join the team in practice.

– Duke Football – who started last season 5-1, but finished 6-7 – hasn’t had a winning season since 1994.

– The conference as a whole inked a new deal that guaranteed their bowl affiliations through 2019 with seven bowl games, including The Russell Athletic Bowl and The Orange Bowl.

After that, nothing really happened in the ACC. It was a very quiet offseason for the conference, and I’m sure they prefer it that way. Now with only 20 days until UNC and Wake Forest kick off their seasons on the final Thursday of August, we look ahead to what to expect this season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Games to Watch

Week 1: Georgia @Clemson 8:00 P.M, August 31st  – Number 8 and Number 5 in the Coaches poll. Can you ask for a better primetime kick off for college football? I can’t.

Week 2: Florida @Miami 12:00 P.M, September 7th  – There’s three great teams in the state of Florida every year, and luckily for us, two of them play in Week 2. Florida’s considered a much better team than the U this season, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to win this one, especially in Sun Life Stadium.

Week 3: Georgia Tech @Duke 3:30 P.M, September 14th  – Duke and Georgia Tech are two middle of the pack teams in the ACC, but I’m expecting the Blue Devils to have their first plus-.500 season in a long time this year, and that starts right here with an upset over the Yellow Jackets. Plus, who doesn’t love watching the triple option?

Week 4: Clemson @North Carolina State, 7:30 P.M, September 19th  – This is your chance to watch N.C State this season, because the rest of their games will be rather boring. This one, on the other hand, will be entertaining. State’s secondary help opposing quarterbacks to 58% completion percentage, while Tahj Boyd completed nearly 68 percent of his passes last year. One of those two statistics is going to have to give.

Week 5: Virginia Tech @Georgia Tech, 7:30 P.M, September 26th  – Georgia Tech’s offense chews up tons of yards on the ground (311.1 yds/game), while Virginia Tech, under Frank Beemer, has been historically great against the ground attack. You’ll be in for a lot of bruises and bumps in this one, but the star could be Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas, who is looking to build on a very solid junior year (2,976 yards, 18 TDs/16 INTs).

Week 6: Georgia Tech @Miami , October 5th  – If you haven’t caught a Georgia Tech game by Week 6, you’re not following the guide. If you’re following the guide, you’ve already watched two Georgia Tech games. Either way, catch GT take on the Hurricane’s in Miami. The Canes will be favored, but the the Jackets ground game is definitely capable of pulling off the upset in this one.

Week 7: Syracuse @North Carolina St., October 12th  – Jermoe Smith is a dark-horse for best running back in the conference, especially after a sophomore year where he piled up over 1,000 yards. If he gets into the end zone a bit more this year, he could surprise a lot of people and end up as All-ACC selection

Week 8: Florida St. @Clemson, October 19th  – This is the highlight of the ACC Season, and this will be for the Atlantic Division crown. On one side, Boyd and the high powered Clemson offense, and on the other is Christian Jones and the explosive Seminoles defense. The winner gets to control their destiny in the race for the conference crown, the loser will be playing catch-up and hoping for a loss the rest of the season.

Week 9: Pittsburgh @Navy, 1:00 P.M, October 26th  – Pitt’s a team that could either be great or be subpar this season. They lost their leading rusher, their leading receiver, and their starting quarterback. But, they’ve also had great recruiting since Paul Chryst took over the reigns two seasons ago. This should be a good measuring stick to see how this young team’s progressed as the season’s went along.

Week 10: Miami @Florida St., November 2nd – Florida Rivalry Part Two. In a rivalry filled with close calls – See: Wide Right, Part I-IV – this game never disappoints. Both teams are expected to compete for the conference crown this season, and if they live up to expectations this season, this game will be one you won’t want to miss.

Week 11: Virginia @Miami,  November 9th  – Virginia has defeated Miami in three straight seasons, and taken them to overtime back in 2008 as well. Combine that with the fact that Miami will be coming down after a big game the week before and we have the recipe for a possible upset. If that happens three months from now, look back at this column so I can say I told you so.

Week 12: Georgia Tech @Clemson., November 14th 
 – This game will be a paradox within itself. You’ll see two teams play starkly different football, while achieving the same results. The Jackets run the triple option and destroy you on the ground, while piling up a lot of points. The Tigers spread you out and throw til the cows come home, while piling up a lot of points. This game will be the Twix commercial of the college football season.

Week 13: Duke @Wake Forest November 23rd  – Wait, this isn’t basketball season. Never mind.

Week 14: Clemson @South Carolina, November 30th  – Jadeveon Clowney sacked Boyd four and a half times last season in this same match up and the Gamecocks beat the Tigers 27-17. Now both Boyd and Clowney have done some jawing back and forth through the media the last few weeks and this game has a lot of hype building up to it already. Both teams should enter this game with just a loss or two on their BCS resumes as well, so if the trash talk isn’t enough, that should push the excitement over the top. In a week of the season full of great games, this one could possibly top them all.

10 Players to Watch

1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson, QB, Senior 
&
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson, WR, Junior 
 – Hands down the best Wide Receiver-Quarterback combination in all of college football. Over the last two seasons, they’ve combined for 1,927 yards and 15 touchdowns over their two years together, and this year looks to be even better with DeAndre Hopkins, last season’s leading receiver, heading to the NFL. Watkins is a top flight talent, with ability to go deep or operate in the slot, and Boyd is one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football. The Tigers will be one of the most dangerous teams in the country through the air, and if the defense steps up big, the Tigers could be competing for a whole lot more than just  a conference title this season.

3. Tre Boston,S, UNC, Senior  – Boston led UNC in tackles last season, as a junior, as a safety. It seems that every season North Carolina produces one outstanding defensive player, and this season it’s going to be Boston. The 6’1, 225 center fielder also tied for the team lead with five interceptions, including one for returned for a TD. Whether it’s crowding the box or defending the pass, Boston will do it all for the Tarheels this season.

4. Christian Jones, LB, Florida St., Senior – Christian Jones scares me. He’s 6’4, 235, and runs a 40 in under 4.6. If he wasn’t on a such a star studded defense, he’d be much higher on the list (Florida State boasts by far the best defense in the ACC). Jones led the Seminoles, and was top 10 in the ACC, with 95 stops last season, and should make even more this season.

5. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami, Sophomore  – There’s a lot of excitement over the sophomore back playing in Dade County this season. Continuing the long tradition of great tailbacks out of the U, Johnson is poised to jump on a lot more people’s radars after this season. He may be small, but like Thomas out west, he’s devastatingly fast.

6. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech, Senior – Logan Thomas has the prototypical quarterback build(6’6, 257), he has the arm strength of a first round draft pick, and has been a starter at Tech for the last two seasons at Virginia Tech. He has all the tools to be a star, he just hasn’t put everything together yet. If he cuts down on the turnovers (18 TDs, 16 INTs in 2012) and plays more consistently, Thomas and Tech could be looking at a big season for both player and team.

7. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland, Sophomore   – He’s the most exciting player on maybe the least exciting team in the conference. Diggs lines up all over the field for the Terps, and makes the most of each opportunity (15.7 ypc). If he gets an improved quarterback behind center, you could see Diggs putting up much bigger numbers this year.

8. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami, Senior  – Morris impressed more than a few people in his first year as a starter (3,345 yards, 21 TDs, 58%), and with a lot of attention on Johnson in the backfield, Morris could do even more damage this season. Add that to the fact that he also has his favorite target in Phillip Dorsett and you realize the Canes could be competing with Clemson for the title of Scariest Offense in the Acc.

9. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke, Junior  – Crowder just needs to be consistent. He had 200+ yards of receiving in last season’s regular sesaon finale against Miami. He also had 16 yards against Florida State. Two big games, two opposite performances. Most teams hope Crowder is the Dr. Jekyll that showed up against the Seminoles, the Blue Devils need him to be the Mr. Hyde he turned into against Miami.

10. Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia, Senior – Arguably the best tackle in the conference, he’ll be the most likable player on a very unlikable team. Plus, he gets bonus points for looking just like Rick Ross.

Conference Prediction (Regular season, Conference recond)

Atlantic:
1. Clemson (10-2, 8-0)

2. Florida State (9-3, 7-1)

3. N.C State (8-4, 5-3)

4. Wake Forest (7-6, 4-4)

5. Maryland (4-8, 3-5)

6. Boston College (3-9, 2-6)

7. Syracuse (2-10, 0-8)

– This division all comes down to two things: Florida State @Clemson on October 19th, and can the winner of that game avoid a stumble the rest of the season. For Florida State, winning the division means a BCS birth. For Clemson, winning the division means possibly more. The Tigers have two SEC tests and the beginning and end of the season, and if they can pass those, then an undefeated season could be riding on the balance of this game. I think the Tigers fall to both SEC foes, but don’t be surprised if they shock me, and a lot of other folks, and go undefeated this season.

Coastal:
1. Miami (FL) (9-3, 7-1)

2. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2)

3. Georgia Tech (6-7, 4-4)

4. North Carolina (7-6, 4-4)

5. Duke (7-5, 3-5)

6. Pittsburgh (3-10, 2-6)

7. Virginia (3-9, 1-7)

– Miami and Virginia Tech will both go as far as their quarterbacks take them, and right now Miami has the advantage in that category. But don’t count out Frank Beemer’s boys in Blacksburg, because there is a lot of talent on that team right now. The Tobacco Road rivalry is also one to watch, as Duke hasn’t beaten North Carolina in the standings since 1989, and this could be the year it happens. At the bottom you have Pitt and Virginia, and for the Panthers, this is a rebuilding year and the future’s bright. For Virginia, that’s a not so certain fact. Both teams should struggle this year, but will look to improve as the season moves along.

Conference Champion: – Clemson Tigers

Final Notes

– I don’t know if you saw, but I picked Duke to finish above .500. That means that they’re more than likely going to go 5-7 or worse, that’s fine. Until that happens, I believe in the Dukies ending their below .500 drought.

– If Johnny Manziel ends up getting suspended, or hurt, Tajh Boyd’s my pick to win the heisman.

– The ACC is in a down year, they have three, maybe four teams that can really compete with the big dogs across the country, but that bodes well for their top teams. Strong teams in weak conferences have the best chances of playing for a national title than a great team in a great conference. That means don’t be shocked to see Clemson near the top of the BCS standings at the end of the season.

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Follow Justin on Twitter here:Follow @TheRockhold
Email him at Justin.Rockhold@CBSRadio.com to ask questions for an upcoming College Football Mailbag

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